Kate Bakes started 2012 with a spot in one of the last Grey Markets. A bit nervous about pitching my product face to face with complete strangers for hours on end, I pushed myself to do it. Sure, I may have possibly forced my friend Bink to stay with me the whole day, figuratively holding my hand at times (and literally at others), but I made it through. By the end of the market, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride. I was forced to break out of my shell and get comfortable selling my bars to people who may not even understand what vegan and gluten-free is. It was a big day for Kate Bakes and for me personally, as well.
So even though I felt my experience at the market was an overall success, I didn’t even come close to selling out and quickly learned there will be countless unpredictable factors standing in my way at times. At Grey, my table was in the corner at the door, stuck behind that never-ending banh mi line.
The rest of the year would bring lots of progress, but lots of “banh mi lines” as well.
In the spring, I finally found kitchen space and a fellow entrepreneur willing to give me a chance by renting to me. Then, DCRA rejected my business license two times in a row despite countless calls and assurances I was filing correctly. Here’s hoping the third times a charm.
A great printing company approached me about updating my labels. Finally, after many failed attempts with other companies, both the design and the price were right, but then the color of my logo wasn’t. And still isn’t.
Kate Bakes also got its own website separate from the blog, the goal being to have all the info in one place as well an online store. For some reason the store hasn’t worked from the get-go and after many attempts by many people to fix it, it’s still broken. I’m in the process of calling in more favors from friends on this one.
Then social media accounts were set up and I wasted no time using them to get the Kate Bakes name out there. I didn’t hesitate reaching out to any and every twitter handle I thought might be of assistance. Turns out, lots of people in the food industry are willing to meet with you if you ask nicely. Not every meeting brought me business, but I made some great contacts and learned something from each person I met with.
And then people started reaching out to me, too. The Washington Post contacted me for an article about another vegan business in DC. E-mails came in from people wanting more information about the bars or to put me in touch with so-and-so’s sister who is vegan and gluten-free. I also received my first hate e-mail. Never underestimate crazy, even when it comes to granola bars.
Undeterred and wanting to get even more local exposure, I contacted some bloggers. I received great reviews, feedback and support. I was beginning to feel like my little company was really getting out there. Interest and orders were growing.
Then at the end of the summer, I finished one day job, started another and moved across town. All in the span of 4 days.
Admittedly overwhelmed during the fall, I decided to finish out 2012 being a little less aggressive on the promotional front, but staying strong with the customers I’d already acquired throughout the year. The Christmas season brought large orders from many of my customers. Yes, sometimes I feel like I’m building my customer base excruciatingly slow, but then I realize how solid my foundation is and how people wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t truly love my product. This means more to me than a sudden influx of one-time orders. Repeat orders give me the confidence that I really am selling something great.
Despite trying to keep my head in the right place, I always feel like there is more I can be doing. But the reality is, for now, my time and money are limited. This is a start-up and I’m going to have to pick and choose what I want to go forward with. Kate Bakes is a one person company with one source of funding and that’s the Bank of Me. I regularly have to decide what to move forward with by investing in it and what can wait a little longer (or maybe bartered for with some bars). From getting my new labels to biting the bullet on a case of white top-handle shopping bags to deliver local orders in, each time I use the Kate Bakes debit card I have to assure myself it’s a necessary purchase.
Still, there are inevitable times when money will essentially be wasted. I’ve gone back and forth trying to decide whether or not to bake X amount of bars each week or bake to order each week. I worry about losing money on unsold product, but I also worry about losing potential sales. Staying cautious for now, I largely bake to order, but have to ignore the voice that says I should just be trying harder to make sure I sell out each week.
Reading this review, it seems like I often take one step forward only to take two steps back. Everything costs more and takes longer than I thought it would and that may never go away. But the past year has given me a better idea of where I want to focus my business, who I want to reach and how I’m going to do it. For example, Grey may have served a great purpose for me in January 2012, but in January 2013 I know my priority is to obtain my business license so I can start selling to local retailers.
Starting a business is by no means easy and I knew that going in. Truth is, I love this. All of it. The challenges, while frustrating at times, are nothing compared to the reward of seeing Kate Bakes grow. I keep reminding myself it has only been a year and I’m definitely moving in the right direction, no matter how many steps I manage to take at one time.